The Distinguished Assassin by Nick Taussig, June 2013, 320 pages, Dissident, ISBN: 1905978189
Reviewed by Susan White.
(Read more of Susan's reviews for Euro Crime here.)
Aleksei Klebnikov is a happily married man with a beautiful daughter, Katya, who is a talented ballet dancer. Aleksei is a lecturer in history and although against everything the regime stands for, tries to lead a quiet life under the radar.
After several weeks of being followed, Aleksei is pulled in for questioning by Vladimir Primakov, who lusts after Natalie, Aleksei's wife. Aleksei is accused of being a traitor to Russia and sentenced to 25 years in the harshest prison, where political prisoners are treated worse than the professional criminals.
Working in the forest, where the slightest infraction results in loss of food and severe punishments, he has a small group of fellow intellectuals who support each other. His hatred of the political system is recognised and he is befriended by Ivan Bessonov, a thief-in-law, a powerful criminal that controls the prison and carries on with his business outside even as a prisoner. Aleksei is offered help to escape if he will agree to kill six people for Bessonov, people who have a history of particular violence and abuse. The
list includes Primakov, who Aleksei now learns is playing happy families with Natalie and Katya.
Aleksei starts killing the men on the list, finding it difficult at first, but justifying his actions with the details of their crimes. Then he meets Natalie again and suddenly his recent decisions are not clear as they were.
The book is set in Stalinist Russia and I found it very difficult to read. The violence, poverty and the terror of ordinary people in this era are very graphically portrayed. I cannot say I enjoyed it, but felt that I learnt a bit of the history while reading it and felt compelled to finish it. The ending was a surprise as well.
Recommended as an interesting read.
Susan White, June 2013